Mo & Terry Smedley


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Heartland USA by Rail
June, 2005

Part VIII:  Saint Louis to Chicago

Thursday morning in Saint Louis, we sequestered ourselves in the air conditioned hotel room to stay out of the 100 degree heat.  We eventually weakened and, armed with a couple of bottles of cold water, headed back to Laclede's Landing for lunch.  Mo picked "The Trainwreck", a funky eatery with lots of Cardinals memorabilia (including an interesting advertisement for Chesterfield cigarettes featuring Stan the Man Musial and Ted Williams puffing away).  After lunch, we sweated our way back to the hotel, picked up our baggage and headed off to the Saint Louis Amshack to board our Chicago train.

There was quite a crowd on the train to Chicago, accompanied by the usual boarding confusion.  I had booked "Business Class" seats, and that turned out to be a good choice.  Business Class was seated in a small, private section ahead of the cafe car.  It was peaceful there, compared to the anarchy that reigned in the "cattle car" sections.  Our car was one of the "Amfleet" cars built by Budd in Amtrak's very early days (1970s).  These cars seemed to be designed to emulate the appearance and feel of an aircraft, down to a rounded "fuselage" cross-section, and ridiculously small windows for a railroad passenger car.  Thankfully, Amtrak's later capital investments (in Superliner and Viewliner cars) overcame these early design flaws.  The trip itself was uneventful, and we arrived into Chicago Union Station right on time (at 8:45 PM).

I'm always a little paranoid about walking around the City at night (that holds true even in Seattle).  The downtown Chicago streets seemed filled with other pedestrians, so we trekked the mile or so from Union Station to our hotel on Michigan Avenue.  We are staying at The Congress, an older hotel with beautiful views of Lake Michigan.  It's seen better days, but it's clean, relatively inexpensive, and located within walking distance of what we want to see.

Friday morning, we walked over to the Field Museum of Natural History.  It was cool (mid 70s), and being outside felt really good, for the first time in more than a week.  At the museum, we partook of a very informative guided tour of the Egyptian exhibits, then wandered around on our own until we were both tired of being on our feet.  The Field museum contains the most complete T. Rex skeleton in existence.  It's named "Sue" (actual gender unknown), after the person who made the find.  The exhibits about Sue are interesting, especially to compare against the Hollywood version (Jurassic Park style).  We also noted that staff members in the museum were very friendly - this was a marked change from Saint Louis.

After we rested our feet back in the hotel for an our or so, we headed out again on a two mile journey to Chicago's Navy Pier.  We were in search of a pizza restaurant we had heard about, but decided to pass when we found it looked like any other mall food court establishment.  We opted instead (Mo's choice again) for Joe's Be-Bop, a restaurant featuring live Chicago jazz.  After dinner, we took a ride on the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier, then walked back to the hotel.  The "Taste of Chicago" outdoor celebration is running this week in Grant Park, so there was lots of pedestrian traffic which made me feel more or less secure on our nighttime walk back to the hotel.

Tomorrow, we'll do some quick shopping in "The Loop" before boarding the Empire Builder for our two-night trip back to Seattle.  Unless something unusual and exciting happens on our trip home, this page will be the last in our trip diary!

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Lunch at The Trainwreck in the Laclede's Landing district of Saint Louis. The Arch and the brick streets of Laclede's Landing. From our train on our way out of Saint Louis - I took this to remind myself of the never-ending barge traffic on the Mississippi. Here's the view from our Chicago Hotel.  This is looking towards the Museum Campus (Fleet Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum of Natural History).
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The Field Museum - if you look hard enough, you can make out the big banner announcing the T. Rex exhibit ("Sue"). Here's an afternoon shot of the crowds around Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park for the Taste of Chicago.  Lake Michigan is beautiful today.  I haven't been in Chicago on a nasty, windy, bone-chilling cold day - I might feel differently about the place then. Mo with Sue, the T. Rex. This picture's for Vera, and she'll know why.
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One of the exhibits was titled "The Underground", and featured human-sized models of subterranean critters.  This spider, which is about six feet across, comes with motion and sound effects as it chows down on the larvae.  The sign on the entrance to the exhibit cautioned that small children might be frightened by some of the exhibits.  Arachnaphobics need not enter! This picture is for my brother, Stephen.  Think of that classic sci-fi film "THEM"!  This model is about two feet across. The magnificent main hall of the Field Museum.  Sue (the T. Rex) is in the foreground. We saw a couple of these Segways in use by security staff around the Museum Campus.
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The Chicago waterfront is beautiful on a day like this. The crowds at the Taste of Chicago.  Too many people for me!  We decided not to eat here, but it was interesting to take a brief walk through.  Walk is probably too passive a term - it takes a lot of navigation and energy to wind through crowds like this. Mo at Joe's Be-Bop at the Navy Pier. The Chicago skyline from the Ferris Wheel.
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The Miracle Mile from the Ferris Wheel. On the Ferris Wheel.   The Ferris Wheel.  The design is based on the original Ferris Wheel displayed at the Chicago World's Fair (but this one is about half-size).
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Navy Pier was a happening place on Friday night!     This picture is for Bob & Betsy, and they will both understand why I thought of them together when I saw this display in the Field Museum.